Charlotte nabs a big booster for its work to land the GOP national convention

Charlotte nabs a big booster for its work to land the GOP national convention
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good announced Thursday the company is part of a bipartisan group of corporate leaders in Charlotte working to lure the 2020 Republican National Convention to the city. (T. Ortega Gaines | The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Deon Roberts/The Charlotte Observer) - Duke Energy investors lost millions over the company's involvement with the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte six years ago. But that hasn't stopped the company from working to bring the GOP convention to the city, Duke's CEO disclosed Thursday.

CEO Lynn Good announced that the company is part of a group of corporate leaders in Charlotte seeking to lure the 2020 Republican National Convention to the city.

The city submitted a proposal in March to host the event.

Good made the disclosure about Duke's involvement during the Charlotte-based company's annual shareholders meeting. She did not specify what role Duke is playing or name the other companies.

But Good said the bipartisan group is "seeing if we can position the city to be successful to host the convention.

"The whole objective is to showcase Charlotte," Good said. "The whole objective is to showcase North Carolina and to drive economic development."

Good also said that Duke planned to contribute company funds to the effort, but she did not provide a figure. Following the meeting, a company spokesman said that if Charlotte lands the convention, Duke would contribute money "at a level consistent with other large companies at the last RNC and DNC conventions," meaning those in 2016.

For some Duke investors, that announcement might not sit too well.

That's because Duke shareholders ended up footing $6 million in costs after Duke was not repaid a line of credit it guaranteed for Charlotte to host the 2012 DNC. Duke provided the financial support after the DNC host committee, co-chaired by then-Duke CEO Jim Rogers, struggled to raise money under fundraising rules set by the White House that banned corporate cash contributions.

Shareholders remain frustrated over the hit they took.

That was reflected when one shareholder, referring to Charlotte's GOP bid, asked Good if Duke would be "picking up the tab for unpaid bills" if the city wins the convention.

That question prompted Good to disclose Duke's involvement in trying to land the 2020 convention.

The Duke spokesman said former North Carolina Republican Congressman Robin Hayes is leading the group, which is made up of "leaders from the community, businesses, athletics and the arts, that strongly support Charlotte's bid for the 2020 Republican National Convention."

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state Republican party, said he would let other companies disclose their role and contributions to the effort.

"We know that the RNC is giving Charlotte a serious, serious look," Woodhouse said. "People have made a point of coming up to us who are on the committee or who saw the presentation, and saying (Mayor Vi Lyles) did a great job."

"The 2012 convention was the largest event in the city's history and provided a huge economic boost to the area, drawing more than 35,000 visitors and generating an economic impact of more than $163 million," the Duke spokesman said. "Anything that benefits Charlotte benefits Duke Energy, which in turn benefits shareholders."

When Charlotte hosted the DNC, the local host committee was responsible for raising about $37 million and fell short by $8 million.

The price for the 2020 GOP convention has increased significantly.

Bid documents released by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority show that the Republicans expect the host city to raise between $68 million to $70 million. Charlotte officials, including Lyles and Police Chief Kerr Putney, met with Republican National Committee officials last week.

What's unusual is that Charlotte is so far the only city to publicly say it is bidding.

At least three cities have said they would like to bid on the 2020 DNC: Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., and Milwaukee. In past years, cities have been eager to discuss their bids, even if they were considered long-shots to win a convention.

In its original bid documents, the RNC told Charlotte the deadline for bidding was Feb. 28. But the RNC has extended that deadline, though it did not say why.

City officials believe they are competing with other cities, but no one else has said they are interested.

The Observer has reached out to a number of other large cities, many of them in swing states. Orlando; Dallas; Phoenix; Denver; Atlanta; Nashville; Columbus, Ohio; Philadelphia; and Pittsburgh said they are not bidding.

An official with the Miami-Dade Republican party told the Observer she had not heard about Miami bidding. A Houston City Council member's office said "no talks about the RNC" have happened at the council level. A spokesperson for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said Thursday that Republicans asked the city to bid, but it had to decline because it "doesn't have the facilities to accommodate the event."

One possible competitor is San Antonio, Texas.

The city's mayor, Ron Nirenberg, sent a memo to his City Council last week telling them the RNC wants the Texas city to bid.

In his memo, he wrote that he earlier had believed "that the GOP opted not to pursue a bid from San Antonio. As such, no further discussions occurred. "

He added: "Today, I learned that the GOP has renewed its interest in San Antonio, and is now actively seeking a convention bid. I've asked the City Manager to schedule a full briefing at the earliest possible date. "

Council members and the mayor were scheduled to discuss whether or not to bid Thursday.

But there is growing opposition among activists in the city about hosting the convention.

"At this point, the state and national Republican Party is committed to this strategy of hate and greed," Graciela Sanchez, with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, said, according to television station KSAT. "We don't want or need this hate to come to San Antonio."

Some Democratic activists in Charlotte opposed to President Donald Trump have said the city should not bid on the RNC because of the president.